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Frame of Reference - Index

Sextus Decimus Stele


1) (Note: this verse is to be read with a slight British accent for proper affect.)

Each of us do create or accept standards of conduct for our own lives, that is, adopt the patterns of our personality as we choose, or we must be content with the patterns learned from our parents and siblings. For example: I have created a new etiquette for the use of eating utensils. I have trained myself to cut my meat using the knife in my left hand; since I am right handed this is non-standard (and in the beginning was rather awkward). This is better, and apparently acceptable social etiquette. The British and 'continental' method is to use the knife in the right hand and then use the fork in the left to bring the food to the mouth. The only time one would use this is when eating meat; otherwise the fork is operated by the right hand. (Obviously the opposite would be true for left-handers, one presumes.) In the American method, the knife is switched to the left hand after cutting with the right, which tempts one to cut several slices at the same time; this is considered a breach of etiquette. The fork is likewise operated in the right, or dominant, hand.

Now, by learning to cut with the left hand, this frees the right, or dominant hand to operate the fork unimpeded, without all that obnoxious switching or learning to operate the fork with the left. Now one could ask: Why teach the left hand to operate the knife rather than using the fork in the left hand also? And, quite frankly, this is the kind of question that just can't be answered. (Similar, I suppose, to those questions relating to the purpose of life?) But the entire process (using the knife in the left hand) when viewed in action is graceful and not at all obtrusive, and very efficient, without all that clicking of putting the knife down on the plate to switch; what nonsense! Thus, I have never been quite content with the patterns I learned from my parents, which was the switching method common in America (or any other pattern of etiquette.) Nor was I pleased with adopting the European method when I lived there for two years. In fact, it was during that time when I developed the 'knife cutting in the left hand' method that is altogether quite satisfactory, and suitable for the most sophisticated dining circumstances.

Thoughtful people can thus improve culture by refining each detail of their lives. Etiquette is not arbitrary and inconsequential; it is systematic and useful for enjoying and getting-on in life.

2) "Our manners have been corrupted by communication with the saints. Our hymnbooks resound with a melodious cursing of God and enduring him forever. One would say that even the prophets and redeemers had rather consoled the fears than confirmed the hopes of man. There is nowhere recorded a simple and irrepressible satisfaction with the gift of life... If, then, we would indeed restore mankind by truly Indian, botanic, magnetic, or natural means, let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves... I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived ... living is so dear ... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life... if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion..." (Henry David Thoreau, Walden) (1817-1862) Life (and etiquette) deserves this kind of thoughtful consideration. So Be It.

3) Confucianism applied the idea of ritual conduct to the general realm of everyday behavior. For Chinese their central virtue, Li, means propriety, but also ritual. Li stands for the way things should be done. There is a proper way to relate to other people within every circumstance, so that rulers should 'manifest' benevolence and subjects should 'demonstrate' loyalty. The Confucian gentleman learned thousands of rules of observance -- the proper way to greet a guest, to listen to a eulogy, to stand or sit depending on the presence of equals, juniors, or superiors --aiming at the cultivation of his character through harmonious observance of the ways of 'heaven and earth.' In Western society similar ways of relating are taught by parents (and teachers) to their unruly children (and students), but it turns out that people most often learn better by example (from peers) than from instruction.

4) Politeness

If people ask me,
I always tell them:
"Quite well, thank you, I'm very glad to say."
If people ask me,
I always answer,
"Quite well, thank you, how are you today?"
I always answer,
I always tell them,
If they ask me
      I wish
        That they wouldn't.

(A. A. Milne, 1924)

5) For the Hindu, seeing is of particular importance. A Hindu goes to a temple not to 'worship,' but rather 'for dars'an,' to see the image of the deity. The quest for seeing embodies much that is distinctive to the religions of Hindus. The people of India attach a special value to the sight, the dars'an, of a saintly person or a great leader. This seems to be peculiar to Hindu religion with no counterpart in any Western religion. Dars'an is a two way flow of vision when the god (or the image) sees the devotee and the two make intimate contact with their eyes. When the image of a god is made, their eyes are the last part completed. Thus, for the Hindu, seeing became a form of touching. Therefore the Hindus forbade certain meetings of the eyes in public, not only between lovers but even between husband and wife.

6) Civilization -- among other details of communication and economic relations -- implies civility or life in the city. The cities accumulate the brainpower and talent of the surrounding lands and these thinkers thrive on order, protected by the rule of law. Predictability of life and removal of fear from both internal chaos and external intrusions and threats, stimulates first language then the development of art, politics, religion, literature and music. Cities are the crossroads of the mind as well as the geographic locus of convenience. Creative powers of Man feed off each other as each generation adds its genius and problem solving skills to the heritage of the city. As people solve problems together, morality develops. Pleasantries cultivated -- that are successful at the family hearth -- extend to neighbors and encompass the community in ethical behavior and etiquette that succeeds in bonding even competing clans to various activities that support the city. Polite behavior develops, evolves and becomes patterned as part of commerce, religion and social interaction.

The transmission of these etiquette's from generation to generation through nurturing and home spun education, expands with the wealthy and feudal leaders to the development of schools and then public education. This institution of education first of all distinguishes Man from beast, (even animals train their young) and then distinguishes classes of Men from each other. We teach our offspring more than survival; we teach cooperation, style (often by example), skill and syntax along with 'read'n, rit'n, n rithmatic' (the three r's). Certainly this is the purpose of Frame of Reference -- to transfer non-intuitive insight from one generation to the next, to expand civilization past the rudimentary priest-religion-lawgiver phase, to enhance the enlightened appreciation of value, fairness and enrichment of culture.

7) No office can dignify a man,
but many a man dignifies his office.

When a bore leaves the room,
you feel as if someone came in.

The man who disobeys his father
will have disobedient sons.

If you want people to think you wise,
just agree with them.

Too courteous is discourteous.

Guests, like fish, begin to smell on the third day.

(Jewish Quotations)

8) Marriage is at the center of Eskimo life. A man marries just as soon as he can hunt with sufficient skill to feed a wife, and girls often marry before they reach puberty. A man is destitute without a wife. He has no one to make his clothes or to cook for him. A woman without a husband must live like a beggar, for she has no one to hunt game for her. Marriage is simply an economic necessity, and so there are no elaborate courtship displays or marriage celebrations among the Eskimo. Most often teenagers arrange to live together with no public ceremony. Furthermore a tradition of wife lending, swapping polyandry and polygyny, is well documented.

There is a strong cultural dependence on gift giving in Eskimo society. White explorers were surprised by the failure of the native peoples to have the courtesy to thank for gifts. It was the custom, however, for the gift to be remembered and later repaid in full. It was considered by the natives as a means of exchange. Sharing is a kinsman's due and it is not in the category of a gift. "You must not thank for your meat; it is your right to get parts. In this country, nobody wishes to be dependent upon others... With gifts you make slaves just as with whips you make dogs!" One Eskimo hunter may be successful in killing seal after seal while another hunter is having a long streak of bad luck. Thus, the best place for him to store his surplus is in someone else's stomach, because sooner or later he will want his gift repaid. (Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization, 1968)

9) "...His first dinner at a white man's table in a white man's house... Ishi so closely watched his hostess, imitating her choice of fork or spoon, her use of a napkin, and the amount of food she put on her plate, his exactly similar motions appeared to be simultaneous with hers... Customs differed from tribe to tribe [in California], but a strict etiquette of eating was observed by all of them. The shift to new food and a different way of serving it seems to be adroitly managed when the principle and habit of conventional behavior 'at table' is already ingrained.

"In camp, his friends found that he cleaned fish or butchered a rabbit or a deer with deftness, leaving no messy and fly-attracting scraps, and that his cooking and dishwashing were done more quickly and neatly than their own... This easy competence and pleasure in well-ordered arrangements of the tools and possessions of living suggests the Japanese flair for raising mere orderliness to an aesthetic of orderliness. There is a temperamental, and possibly kinesthetic something in this trait not to be explained by poverty... poverty does not, per se, make for orderliness or aesthetic satisfaction, nor for cleanliness nor pride nor even for care in handling the little one has. The aesthetic of order and arrangement would seem to be something inborn, deep-seated in the individual psyche. Some cultures turn this preference and capacity into an approved value: thus the Yana and the Japanese." (Theodora Kroeber, Ishi in Two Worlds, 1961)

This orderliness was probably a useful survival skill in the rugged California wilderness, where lack of sanitation and cleanliness would foster disease vectors, insects and lead to detection by wild animals and enemy tribes. Certainly this fastidiousness would have been learned by example and discipline from both the child's mother and father.

10) "When a human is conscious as himself it means merely that he is conscious as feeling -- and desire. The grossest illusions are his supreme realities -- the objects of his feelings and desires. The visible world in which he lives is the type in which he conceives his world after death. His own body is the type of his God and of his Devil. The things which he abhors and which terrify him, make up his hell, and the things he likes, his heaven. But his own doer appears fanciful, doubtful, unreal, except in so far as it is feelings and desires.

"Yet under these unfavorable conditions man is being educated [by life]. He is being educated by doer-memories. Notwithstanding that he does not remember his past lives, that only a portion of the doer is in his body and that the highest conception of himself is being, is an illusion, the false 'I', and notwithstanding that the world in which he exists is an illusion and all the objects he sees and the people he meets are illusions, he is being educated..." (Harold W. Percival, Thinking and Destiny, 1946) Life, as a sequence of educational exercises, makes sense on many levels, even for (especially for?) an Atheist. Life being full of illusions is somewhat harder to accept.

11) "Thought is surrounded by a halo. [An illusion] -- Its essence, logic, presents an order, in fact the a priori order of the world: that is, the order of possibilities, which must be common to both world and thought. But this order, it seems, must be utterly simple. It is prior to all experience, must run through all experience; no empirical cloudiness or uncertainty can be allowed to affect it -- It must rather be of the purest crystal. But this crystal does not appear as an abstraction; but as something concrete, indeed, as the most concrete, as it were the hardest thing there is. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus No. 5.5563).

Wittgenstein presents this statement from his earlier writing as epitome of the philosophical problem that he wished to cure. The illusion or search for the essence, the "utterly simple" is a common mental cramp that invades such important intellectual concepts as the search for the ultimate meaning in life and the precise way to hold a fork. Percival suggested this illusion in a different way in verse 10.

Wittgenstein in his later philosophy argued: "We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential, in our investigation, resides in its trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of proposition, word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a super-order between -- so to speak -- super-concepts. Whereas, of course, if the words 'language', 'experience', 'world', have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words 'table', 'lamp', 'door'." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations I)

In etiquette we look for the proper social maneuver or dress, and don't feel comfortable unless we conform to certain perceived standards. This sense of style, distilling the essence of being 'politically correct' is not moving beyond the humdrum of life into a special world of "super-order" -- "so to speak," it is merely accepting the relevant context of our situation as appropriate. Etiquette, and the hyperbole often associated with graceful language, offers a simple demonstration of where illusion exists in life, on many other fronts as well.

12) The arts of persuasion have always been important to politicians, but nowhere do we encounter these arts more frequently than in our normal every-day society with people. The Greeks developed the fundamental procedures of rational thinking, and soon learned to turn this around to become the masters of persuasion. Philosophers became notorious for teaching tricks of argument to wealthy Athenian youths. From this practice came the word sophistry, a clever and persuasive but misleading argument. The fallacies revealed in Frame of Reference should defend the reader against some of the subtlest attempts at persuasion.

We are subjected to a constant barrage of attempts at persuasion, from telephone solicitations, to preachers, relatives, friends and those with vested political interests. One of the important functions of learning critical thinking is to protect oneself from the devices of persuasion and to recognize social and peer pressure for what it is -- coercive. Among superstitious primitive peoples, the witch doctor developed intuitive skills of persuasion by exploiting natural fear and invoking spells and conjures. If you or I could be persuaded to eat eyes of newts, toes of frogs, legs of lizards or tongues of bats we might be persuaded into any sort of rigmarole.

13) The two fish swim bye


Showing that friendship
Is natural.

(IJ, Sep. 3, 2001)

14) Talmudic deliberations contain the most extraordinary, detailed, 'modern' prescriptions about personal cleanliness, which is considered an obligation to the body God gave man. Christians often remarked on the unusual emphasis Jews placed upon cleanliness and hygiene; some medieval commentators said this amounted to a "cult of purity." Such a "cult" was of immense value in keeping Jewish families healthier than they might otherwise have been. Every Jewish community was required by Talmudic law to maintain a public bathhouse. Bathing could only have helped fortify a sense of self-respect. This seems all the more significant if one considers the differences in hygiene and sanitation that existed between Jewish and other communities in the Middle East. (Leo Rosten, Jewish Quotations)

15) Justice and Virtue

Why is it in some species the male is so colorful and handsome?

The Mallard duck stands on one leg
With his brilliant, iridescent head tucked under his wing.
His mate with the plain brown plumage meditates nervously in the same posture
Both surrounded by half grown ducklings, peeping.
She stirs and grooms the purple stripe on her wing,
The only jewelry she wears.
Yet for man, nature seems to have played a fowl trick,
Adorning its females so much more handsomely.
And, to make matters worse, these natural beauties
Paint, lace and coif themselves to further defy the natural order.
For a man to shave and groom is of little use
Beyond observing the social conventions and suppressing unpleasant odors.
Cleaning and combing and feathering (now archaic)
Is his best chance of improving an otherwise forlorn appearance.
While she has but to lower her neckline,
Tighten her sash, raise her hemline and an eyelash
And he is overwhelmed.
Where is the justice in this universe?
Neither can Men make up in size and weight what they lack in beauty.
Certainly a few of this coarser gender can dance,
Some can sing but mostly as age attacks us
We hobble and limp with dower dispositions.
A few men can smile, if their teeth aren't too bad,
And present a friendly face,
But that is nearly their only grace.
So I have tried to cure my plight by drafting nice words,
Threading these beads into a brace (like wampum.)
Since I can't display any natural beauty
I try to create value and intellectual virtue in this modest way.
Hoping beyond hope that some sympathetic female
Will read these words and count them as adornment to my plain features.
But still there is always in my mind envy for that Mallard,
And I feel a little pride for being male, but this on his account.

(I.J.Hall, July 8, 2002)

16) It is standard now to consider the use of eating utensils as an appropriate topic for considerations of etiquette. This is, however, a modern innovation. The use of the fork began as recently as the 11th century in Venice by women of rank, but only as an anomaly. The fork gained major acceptance among polite society by the 13th century throughout Europe. The use of chopsticks had an earlier origin in China and extended throughout Asia along with their pictorial writing and other cultural courtesies.

17) Emotions of Man enter the control of etiquette at a very early age. Male children, especially, have been taught not to cry in public, nor in private. There are many restraints on the proper display of laughter and love in public, and each culture has its own rules of posture; sitting, clothing, touching even looking at each other becomes scrutinized. Life is Theater in the large.


I am a man
So the rain are my tears.

(IJ, 1995)

18) How do styles of clothing and speech get started? Who are the trendsetters? Often the rich and famous look for new styles to embellish their lives, and thus perpetuate and communicate these styles to the rest of us common-folk. Certainly, famous dress designers make a good living by anticipating styles, and then branch into cosmetics and underwear. Which would you rather wear, under shorts by Fruit of the Loom or briefs by Calvin Klein? These styles determine etiquette, mannerisms, habits of speech, slang talk, car designs, vacation plan trends, toothpaste and hairstyles.

All this is innocent enough until it interferes with the normal growth of young people. There is a lot of impetus (call it a style of thinking) to put children in uniforms in school so they will not be compromised by the fads or rival peer pressure to dress in certain peculiar ways (at least while at school). Growing up a poor child, I remember feeling embarrassment when I wore items that were out of style, and was never able to afford the newest and most stylish clothing. Now that I am older, and forswear such trivial pursuits, my children have complained about my quaintness.

What is happening in this conformity to style is an association by contiguity. One presumes that by wearing the newest style, the person doing so is therefore more popular or valued. Obviously (to an adult) the virtue of an individual does not come from their clothing style, but this takes a few years of maturing to learn. Those adults of the country-club set are often those who seek to benefit from association by contiguity. The rest of us peasants have to learn to enjoy our simple lives the best we can.

19) Another persuasive technique is attitude fitting. Couching an argument in terms that will coincide with the prejudices or preferences of the audience is a common marketing approach. By identifying the special attributes of an article of clothing that most likely suits an outdoorsman's needs, the sports shop is likely to enhance their business with their target market. The same item in a department store might go un-noticed by the same individual on a different day because the desirable benefits were not being emphasized. People form their friendships among those who have similar attitudes; what can be wrong about that? If the only people you talk to are those who agree with you, who are socially correct, you don't have the opportunity to expand your personal horizons.

"Skillful attitude fitting is not easy to resist. The former, behavioral scientists, who now work on Madison Avenue, will doubtless make it even more difficult by discovering our hidden attitudes and learning how to exploit them. If we are to protect our right to make our own decisions, we must cultivate the habit of looking behind labels [and religious appeals] and slogans, and applying our critical skills to arguments that seem pleasing but are not supported by reliable evidence." (W. Edgar Moore, Creative and Critical Thinking, 1955)

Without too much effort, we ought to be able to apply these skills of discrimination to the appeals of religious zealots and Evangelists who might wish to snare the souls of unwitting searchers for truth at the beginning of their search.

20) "Onore"

"L'onore di un gentiluomo viene determinato -- oltre che dalla osservanza delle consuetudini cavaleresche -- dalla onesta', serieta', schiettezza e coraggio chae a lui attribuische l'opinione sociale, nonche' dalla di lui sensibilita' nei confronti dell'opinione stessa.

"E' un pregiudizio volgare quello che misura l'onore del gentiluomo dal numero dei duelli. Il duello puo' talora impedire che subisca detrimento l'onore delle persone, ma non conferisce mai onore a chi n'e' privo." (Jacopo Gelli, Codice Cavalleresco Italiano, 1888, rare book, 19th edition)


The honor of a gentleman is determined -- other than the observance of the practices of chivalry -- by the public opinion of honesty, soberness, fidelity and courage attributed to him, and also how sensitive he is to these opinions.

It is a gross prejudice that honors a gentleman by the number of his duels. The duel can save the honor of a person from ruin, but doesn't give honor to someone who lacks it. (The Rules of Italian Chivalry translated by IJ)

21) 11 "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."    (Moses and Aaron, The Old Testament, Deuteronomy 5:11) Since then our language became a tool of righteous conduct, a way to show virtue, quite apart from any appearance or pretense of sincerity.

22) It is easier to see the fish initially
By looking for its shadow.
So it is with man
Our natures are so much a part of humanity
That we must sometimes examine our lives
By looking at the consequences we create.
Thus we create our own blessings or curses.

23) Just like in the voids between the nucleus of atoms and the electron shell there is a rhythm to the concentration of matter both on the atomic scale and on a universal scale. There is a lot of structure in Universe, not uniform distribution of galaxies. When astronomers look at areas as large as millions of light-years, they see gaps, clusters and eddies. There are galaxies of many sizes, and in clusters, super clusters and enormous "bubble walls" surrounding low density voids that expand 300 million light-years wide. This suggests a kind of etiquette in nature that is repeated at many different levels (often as fractals). (see Septimus Stele: Mathematics, verse 24)

Just as suns are formed by the accumulation of clouds of matter, nebulae, other structures and patterns are formed, as sand dunes are formed along the ocean beach. The Local Group, which contains Milky Way, is located toward the outer limits of the Virgo Supercluster. This structure follows laws of chaos, like weather, like waves on a sandy beach, so it's not a question of if there will be structure in nature, but what pattern that structure will take -- it's not a question of chance, just probabilities. Our societies form in the same way, by natural laws relating to the properties of molecules. Thus it is no wonder that we are apt to accept the etiquette that we are taught as children; it is simply following the order of Universe to do so.

On to Septimus Decimus Stele - Morals
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